Ivanka Trump Defends Father Donald Trump, Says 'He Speaks From the Heart'
Why Ivanka Trump Can Offer Her Dad Only Limited Support
Before Donald Trump formally announced his presidential candidacy in June, his 33-year-old daughter Ivanka Trumptold CNBCshe "supports him wholeheartedly." But Ivanka, the executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization and head of an eponymous, hugely successful accessories brand (it did0 millionin sales in 2013), was less specific about what role she'd play in his campaign, saying, "Let's wait to see what he decides."
Well, he's decided to run, as we all know, but Ivanka has hardly rushed to his side to bask in his perhaps disturbingly bright limelight. Trump formally announced his candidacy at the Trump Tower in June, with many reporters noting that it was Ivanka who introduced him to the crowd, not his wife, Melania. But since then, Ivanka hasn't appeared at any Trump campaign events (she joined her siblings at the Republican debate in August and postedphotographsfrom it, but she didn't comment on her father's performance). Nor has she rallied for her father on social media, a sign of just how much she's sticking to her own brand even as the attention swirling around his campaign intensifies. HerInstagramis more concerned with Trump property porn, snapshots of Ivanka-brand heels, and photos of her young children than her father's campaign. (Last month, she announced her third pregnancy viaInstagram and Facebook.) Her distance suggests she's cognizant that Trump's brand — which many have calleddamagingto the Republican party — could be damaging to her.
"Ivanka is a very smart businesswoman and she understands that Trump's insistence on political incorrectness is probably not the best thing for business," said Nick Morrow, a Democratic strategist at SKD Knickerbocker, a political consulting and communications firm. Particularly in the consumer-facing businesses Ivanka helms — the Trump hotel empire and her womenswear line — "you don't really want to alienate anyone," Morrow adds.
Four months after his announcement, her father has been dominating in the polls. He's also famously attacked Hispanic immigrants (referringto Mexican undocumented immigrants as "rapists" who are "bringing drugs and crime" to the U.S.), Muslims (sayinglast week he supports shuttering U.S. mosques in an attempt to fight ISIS), and women (whom he hascalled"fat pigs" and "disgusting animals"). After the Republican debate, he slammed Fox News host Megyn Kelly, saying she had blood coming out of her "wherever," and, later, fellow Republican candidate Carly Fiorina ("look at that face," he quipped). Ivanka, meanwhile, has remained mostly under the radar, though her father does bring her up in appearances (he said she came to him to say he needed to remind voters that he respects and cherishes women, and he named her as his pick for the new bill before changing his answer to Rosa Parks.).
Now, as heplans phase twoof his campaign, Ivanka is slowly beginning to reveal her role as an emphatic and gracious character witness for Trump. But even as she steps into the spotlight, experts predict that her role will be limited to protect her personal and professional brand ("elegant" is a popular descriptor for the wife, mother, and Wharton School of Business MBA).
In interviews earlier this month withCNNandFortune, Ivanka carefully supported Trump, calling him a "formidable negotiator" and a "strong leader," and, by virtue of her place as a top Trump exec, a president who would be "amazing for women" (of course, Ivanka is Trump's daughter and may receive treatment from Trump that he wouldn't extend to others). She wrote off the Kelly and Fiorina conflicts as media brouhahas while conceding her dad is "blunt." She also touted him as a Washington outsider and rare political truth teller. Experts say it makes sense that she talks about Trump as a father and businessman, rather than focusing on his political agenda.
"She's not a policy person," says Republican strategist Susan Del Percio. "The minute she tries to be, that could get her in trouble."
Ivanka told CNN it's not her place to speak about her father's policies: "He's starting to articulate his positions," she said. "It's not my place to articulate those for him. I'm not part of the campaign. I'm very busy and he's kept me very busy working alongside my brothers and running the organization now that he's taking this step. I'll leave policy to him."
When asked at theFortuneMost Powerful Women Summit last week if she was happy that her father is running for president, Ivanka drew laughs from the crowd when she answered, "That's a complicated question. 'Happy' is an interesting word. I'm incredibly proud of him. It's a very difficult thing to do … As a citizen, I love what he's doing. As a daughter, it's more complicated because the level of interest and scrutiny is beyond anything I've ever experienced." Precisely because she is a public figure in her own right, experts say it's wise for her to take a measured, thoughtful approach during her father's often controversial campaign.
"Her surname alone connects her directly to her father and so there will probably be some impact [on her personal brand]," predicts Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "But that impact will increase substantially if she is actively campaigning for her father."
Others note that having a bombastic, famous father hasn't hurt Ivanka's brand before. Even before launching his political career, Trump has been no stranger tooffensive, headline-grabbing remarks."It's been interesting to watch the success of her brand despite Donald Trump," says Lee Carter, a communications strategist and partner at Maslansky and Partners. "People aren't holding it against her that he is who he is."
But while Ivanka aligning herself more closely with her father's campaign could be risky for her, most political strategists agree that her public support is a big benefit for Trump. Carter says the most common feedback on Ivanka, and her brothers Eric and Donald, in focus groups she conducts is: "[Trump] must have done something right if he has children who are that articulate, successful and loving toward him."
"In many ways, [Ivanka] can alleviate those doubts about either how he treats women or if he's a good person," Carter added. "It doesn't matter to me what the next president of the United States' children care about policy, but it does matter to me what they say about their character."
TheWashington Post reported earlier this month that Melania and Ivanka "are planning public appearances highlighting women's health issues to help close Trump's empathy gap with female voters." Before either woman could rally female voters on his behalf, however, Trump would have to actually outline his policies on these issues. Trump's campaign website currently reveals no specific women's health policies. On the trail, Trump has said hereversedhis longtime support of abortion rights and is now pro-life. He has called Planned Parenthood an"abortion factory"and has called for a repeal of theAffordable Care Act. Trump also has yet to unveil his stances on other traditionally female-centric issues like family leave (on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O'Malley all support paid family leave). Ivanka, by contrast, is vocal about working motherhood and the issues of proverbial "work/life balance," launching a personal#WomenWhoWork initiativeat her website, but has not articulated a position on government mandated paid leave.
"Ivanka has shown herself to be a very poised speaker," said Victoria Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University. "However, without the hard facts of what [Trump's] policies would be, women voters are not going to vote in favor of him."
No matter how polished, Ivanka Trump will only be able to do so much for her father, Budson adds, while staying true to her graceful public image. "She's not going to speak off the cuff. He won't have to worry about cleaning up her mess," strategist Del Percio says.
Video: This is What Ivanka Trump Thinks of Her Father’s Lewd Comments | Fortune Most Powerful Women
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